Dark, subtly sweet and dangerously delicious
Despite its childlike moniker, reminiscent of the milky bar kid or something you might dip your oreos into, a milk stout is in fact a beer. Whilst milk stout has experienced a renaissance in the UK, it’s nowhere near as common as other modern craft styles, like the ubiquitous IPA. Although once you hear the name, it’s hard to forget, leaving you to ask yourself, what even is a milk stout? Well ladies and gents, you’ve come to the right place.
A milk stout? Is in fact a style of beer, sometimes also known as a “cream” stout. However, it’s not just a clever adjective to describe and emphasize the creamy, silk like texture, they actually do contain milk-derived ingredients. We all know that beer styles, especially experimental craft ones, can be hard to define and even harder to identify. A milk stout is simple, you take a stout, and you add lactose to it!
These dark beers with low carbonation have notes of sweetened coffee, chocolate and sometimes vanilla. They are brewed with lactose, the sugar found in milk. Lactose does not ferment when exposed to traditional beer yeast, as it is harder to digest than your regular sugar crystal. There the sugar remains in the beer untouched, creating a subtle sweetness. But before you start saying “I don’t like overly sweet things”, this sweetness is not cloying or overtly sugary. It’s just a gentle sweet kiss. When properly brewed, these delicate sweet notes nicely balance the slight bitter flavours you get from the hops and barley.
Milk stouts were popularized during the 1800s. Back then, in the 19th century it was common for blue collar workers to enjoy beer throughout the day, a midday pick-me-up. And, much like the “Guinness for Strength” slogan, adding lactose to porters and stouts made them milder, more nutritious, and thus more satiating. It wasn’t until 1907 that the first “milk stout” as we know it was created by the English brewer Mackeson’s. Other brewers subsequently caught on to its commercial success and at the start of the 20th century, milk stout was touted as a restorative treatment for all aches, pains, and ill health. Milk stout claimed to be so “nutritious” it was given to breastfeeding mothers to help increase their milk production. It was still being prescribed by doctors up until the 1950s.
There are some big names in the milk stout game, if you want some good examples, you must try the following:
First up, a classic milk stout, from Colorado based brewers, Left Hand Brewing Company. Don’t be put off by the intense black colour, this beer has a gentle mix of roasted coffee and dark chocolate. Just enough sweetness to keep the roasted malt in check! Put your nose over it and you’ll get coffee and caramelised sugar. A tiny bitterness to end rounds it off perfectly. Smooth and warming mouthfeels make this a great winter beer, and an even better Christmas tipple! Left Hand also brew a Nitro Milk Stout, which is described as a “full sensory experience”. A bit like the milk stout, but with added milk-chocolate-creaminess and caramelly brown sugar. It’s silky, smooth, deliciously decadent, and surprisingly refreshing. The perfect cold weather beer.
Using their 200-year old brewing history, Guinness Milk Stout has all the familiar flavours of Guinness with a delicate sweet creaminess from the lactose sugar. It has notes of caramel, chocolate, and mocha like roastiness. It has some earthy, woody tones but the subtle sweet finish makes this beer approachable and exciting. If you already like the world’s most popular dry stout, then you’ll love this even more!
We were lucky enough to have this mocha stout in our Advent Case 2020, and boy did it deliver! Inspired by the flavours of a Mexican hot chocolate, it really is something to behold. The warming flavours of pasilla chili peppers, coffee, cinnamon, and a huge dose of chocolate are a special mix, a spicy elixir. In fact, first introduced as a limited release, fans campaigned so hard that it has since been brought back as a yearly tradition. We can see why, all the flavours blend beautifully together to create multi-layered smooth roastiness, intense cocoa, and a touch of Mexican heat. It’s moreish, luxurious and outspokenly scrumptious.
As with most of the more unusual beer styles, milk stouts were almost wiped out completely. They were an unfavourable style and almost forgotten, but luckily just before their near extinction this dark, delicious and milky blend was revived by modern brewers. And we can tell you, we are so glad they were!